BETHESDA, Md., Nov. 16 (UPI) -- The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced an influenza genome sequencing project to learn how flu viruses evolve and spread.
The sequencing effort, to be conducted in part by the NIAID Microbial Sequencing Center at The Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Md., will reveal complete genetic blueprints of thousands of known human and avian influenza viruses.
"Influenza viruses present formidable scientific and public health challenges because they undergo continual genetic changes that enable them to evade the body's immune response and sometimes become more virulent," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID.
Of increasing concern in Asia are avian influenza strains such as H5N1 that continually mutate as they circulate among poultry, sometimes developing the ability to infect humans.
Despite annual vaccination programs, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized in the United States each year because of influenza, and related deaths average nearly 36,000 annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.